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(Agonia; US: 19 Feb 2013; UK: 4 Mar 2013)

Cypher is the third full-length from eclectic and eccentric industrial/black metal band Spektr, and it’s the Parisian duo’s most bizarre and unconventional album by far. It’s wholly instrumental, with a narrative provided by occasional skewed samples and buried howls. Spektr’s explanation of its themes tells you all you need to know about the madness of its concept (“The Ectoplasm Cypher stands as the Stone-Principle emerging out of Philosophical fumes—the transcended transcription of the most sealed occultism on audio format”), but that doesn’t come close to defining the infectious insanity of the music within.

Cypher blends avant-jazz percussion, twisted electronica, second-wave black metal and industrial riffing with dark ambient swirls and ill-disposed noise to make a phantasmagorical stew of abstraction and psychosis. It’s like a David Lynch nightmare meeting surrealist night terrors. Tracks such as “Terotology” and “The Singularity” are sinister, psychedelic deluges of tremolo-heavy riffing slathered in warping electronics. “Cypher” is an 11-minute lurch between raw black metal, twanging avant-rock (and even a touch of surf-rock) and atmospheric dementedness that would appeal to anyone fond of the Dadaist chaos of Stagnant Waters’ self-titled debut from 2012, or Reverence’s The Asthenic Ascension from the same year.

Spektr isn’t overly disposed to making things accessible, and Cypher is replete with effects and distorting sounds that make the journey fraught with confusion. Still, that very mystification lies at the heart of the album’s success. Whether it’s churning through a black metal passage or indulging in feedback and malfunctioning noise, there are deep layers of texture to be unpacked and, in the end, deciphered.


Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.

Spektr - Cypher (album preview)
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